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UNLV brings dentistry to underserved

Las Vegas—As part of its mission, UNLV's School of Dental Medicine serves Nevada's diverse populations through outreach programs to improve oral health care. Students and faculty organize as well as participate in various community-focused initiatives, including:
  • Crackdown on Cancer: About 53,000 youth have been screened through this grant-sponsored program that brings tobacco-prevention and oral health education, plus oral screenings, to all high schools in Nevada, including 35 rural sites. More than 96,000 Nevada students have been educated about the risk factors for oral cancer and tobacco use.
  • Smiles for Success: SDM students organized this program to treat physically and emotionally abused women from the local community. This expanded into care for the homeless one Saturday a month.
  • Give Kids A Smile: Faculty, dental students and staff annually team with local practitioners to provide oral health services to underserved children at the dental school's clinics. This has evolved into the Southern Nevada Dental Association's 1-Day program, delivery of dental treatment to pediatric patients at the dental school one day a month.
  • Support for the military: UNLV dental students are currently working with the National Guard to provide needed care to its deployable reservists.

As part of the curriculum, student doctors regularly visit "at-risk" elementary schools and local assisted-living centers, providing nutritional information as well as toothbrushes, toothpaste and brushing/flossing instructions. To date, more than 25,000 children and adults have received such services.

According to Dr. Wendy Woodall, associate professor in residence: "We have couched community service in all four years of the curriculum through rotations in our outreach clinical facility for the underserved." She adds that "enrichment periods" also enable dental students to spend up to one month in rural regions to provide dental care.

"With the emphasis to provide more dentists to the state of Nevada for service to the underserved, it is easy to encourage students toward the public health arena," said Dr. Woodall. She adds that UNLV's current dental dean, Dr. Karen West, also with a master's degree in public health, makes it easy to "continuously reinforce the school's mission: Toward perfect health through dental health."